One of the oldest of the great Bordeaux vineyards is located in Pessac, a short distance from the centre of Bordeaux.
Now entirely surrounded by both residential and industrial buildings, the first harvests at Chateau Pape Clement took place in 1252. The vineyard and chateau take their name from its illustrious former owner Bertrand de Goth, who became Pope Clement V in 1305. Since its beginnings in the 13th century, the estate has undergone many changes, but has always remained one of the most prestigious wines of the Bordeaux region.
Chateau Pape Clement is classified as a Grand Cru Classé in the Pessac-Leognan appellation and produces mainly red wine, although a small quantity of white is also made. Now owned by the renowned wine entrepreneur and businessman, Bernard Magrez, who also owns a further four Grand Cru Classé chateaux, the vineyard is a first class example of the harmony of modern technology and tried and tested traditional techniques. During recent years, many of these traditional methods have been re-introduced as they have been found to have beneficial effects on quality. In the vineyards, many of which surround the chateau itself, most work is carried out with horse-drawn equipment, one of the teams being shown in the attached picture. This is beneficial for the vineyard soil and the health of the vines, leading to higher quality grapes which translate into better wine.
During my visit to the chateau earlier this month, I also discovered that both wooden and cement vats are now used for fermentation of the red wines, alongside the stainless steel tanks hailed by so many as the holy grail of winemaking. The different types of vat all have a different effect on the fermentation process and trials at the chateau have resulted in all three types being used, with the wines blended together later to produce the desired style. The white wines, from a mix of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle, are fermented in new 250 litre oak casks, although recently trials are also being undertaken with different size casks and cutting edge egg-shaped cement fermentation vessels.
Chateau Pape Clement, although one of the most revered of the Bordeaux wines, is not an estate which rests on its laurels. The team at the estate constantly strive to not only maintain its quality and status on world markets, but to improve it and adjust to market demands and pressures. Until 2007, only Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon were used for the red wines, but since then, small quantities of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot have been introduced, with beneficial effects on both structure and complexity of the wine. Some years ago, all the red wines were aged for 18 months in new oak barrels, but this has now been reduced to 15 months and only 65% new oak. “The modern day consumer is not prepared to wait 10 years or more before they can start drinking the wine they have bought” explains Amelie Nicou, one of the maître de chais at Pape Clement. “The wine we make now has softer, riper and more integrated tannins, with still the same high quality, meaning it can be appreciated sooner”.
I tasted the 2007 vintage which proved this point admirably. Just over eight years old, it was superbly drinkable, deep coloured with supple tannins and complex structure. The long finish had notes of liquorice and cedar, combined with black fruit flavours. Apart from being a world class wine, Chateau Pape Clement has always held a special place in my heart, since at one time, the Chateau itself was used as a school, and one of its pupils was my wife Catherine, who was born in Pessac.
There are worse places to have gone to school.